Post-Comprehensive Exam Curriculum and Thesis

After successful completion of the comprehensive exam, the student is officially advanced to candidacy for the Ph.D. degree. Once the student has fulfilled the required number of hours specified on his/her plan of study, the student must register "Doctoral Continuous Registration" for 1 semester hour until the semester in which graduation occurs. The student must be registered during the session in which the degree is received. Once a student has passed the comprehensive examination, the student's thesis advisor and thesis committee primarily assume responsibility for advising and research training of the student. 

Thesis advisor

Any tenured or tenure-track member of the Physiology faculty may serve as a thesis advisor. Assuming the faculty member agrees to serve in this capacity, the Director of Graduate Studies will recommend approval of this decision by the entire faculty. Departmental permission is required to change the research advisor after the initial advisor is approved.

If the advisor of a post-comprehensive student leaves The University of Iowa, the student’s thesis committee will hold a special meeting. The committee will discuss the progress of the student and decide whether the student’s thesis project can be completed within a two- year time frame. If this decision is reached, then the committee will recommend to the faculty that the student be permitted to complete his/ her research at the advisor's new institution. Thesis committee meetings and thesis defense will be conducted at Iowa, but the department does not assume responsibility for travel expenses incurred in meeting these requirements.

If the thesis committee determines that the student’s thesis project can not be completed within two years, they may recommend that the student not be permitted to leave with his/her advisor. Therefore, the student would need to find a new thesis advisor in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics.

A pre-comprehensive student may elect to move with his/her advisor to a new institution. The student's registration at The University of Iowa will be terminated. If the student elects to stay, he/she will find a new advisor in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. 

Thesis committee

The Thesis Committee will be comprised of the Comprehensive Committee, which includes at least two faculty members with a primary appointment in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics, plus the research advisor. Because the Thesis Advisor is not part of the Comprehensive Exam Committee, but is part of the Thesis Committee, it is equally acceptable to either ask one member of the Exam Committee to step down, or to move forward with an extra member on the committee. A faculty member who has collaborated/published with the student's Thesis Advisor should disclose this fact at the time the students thesis committee is formed. Any subsequent changes in the makeup of the Thesis Committee must be coordinated with the Director of Graduate Studies. The Thesis committee will serve as a guide for the student during his/ her doctoral research and will meet at least once yearly, usually following workshop presentation, to evaluate the student's progress. Students are prohibited from providing food or beverages at committee meetings and examinations.

Option 1: Add thesis advisor to thesis committee. Five member committee is composed of: 2 faculty with primary appointments, 1 faculty with either a primary or secondary appointment, 1 faculty from outside department, and the thesis advisor.

Option 2: Replace one comprehensive exam member with thesis advisor. Four member committee is composed of: 2 faculty with primary appointments, 1 faculty with either a primary or secondary appointment OR from outside department, and the thesis advisor.

Each student must meet with his/her thesis committee on a yearly basis. Additional meetings may be held at the discretion of the thesis advisor or thesis committee. At these meetings the thesis advisor and thesis committee will evaluate the student’s progress. Although it is preferable to hold a thesis meeting in conjunction with a workshop presentation, it is not required. Students separating the two are advised to be mindful that the research presentation aspect of a thesis committee meeting, if any, should be very succinct and not a full repeat of a workshop. Students are required to submit a brief report outlining: the background of their thesis project; a summary of their research progress; and their future research directions. Several days before the student’s workshop and thesis committee meeting, he/she should distribute this report to the members of their thesis committee. After the meeting a letter co-signed by the thesis advisor and the student, summarizing the recommendations of the committee, is sent to the director of graduate studies and Carrie Stasch. A copy is placed in the student’s file and will be used in the evaluation of student progress reports presented by the DGS to the faculty at the end of each semester.


All post-comprehensive students are required to present a workshop on the progress of their thesis research once a year. Students should consult with the workshop coordinator to arrange presentation dates. Pre-comprehensive students are also encouraged to present Workshops, though it is not required. Students have an option to present a full or half Workshop (typically 45 or 20 minutes, respectively).

It is expected that a motivated student be capable of completing a Ph.D. in 4.0 years or less. It is primarily the responsibility of the student to ensure progress. However, the thesis advisor and thesis committee should also be cognizant of this and help the student set goals that can realistically be completed within this time frame.


Experience in teaching is an important part of a student's academic training. To attain adequate teaching proficiency, students will receive teaching assignments after successful completion of the comprehensive exam and in subsequent years as warranted. Individual assignments will depend on the teaching needs of the department. Examples of teaching assignments include running review sessions within a graduate physiology course, formal lectures, participating in small group conferences, assisting in computer simulations, or bench mentoring of summer students. These teaching assignments are made by the director of teaching, in consultation with appropriate course directors. Thesis advisors with specific suggestions concerning teaching assignments that would be particularly beneficial to the individual circumstances of a given student are encouraged to share them with the director of teaching for consideration. However, final discretion for approval lies with the director of teaching who MUST pre-approve all assignments.

Research Publication

It is expected that thesis research will result in findings that are of sufficient quality and completeness to warrant publication in good quality peer-reviewed journals. At least one first-author peer-reviewed research paper should be accepted for publication prior to the Ph.D. thesis defense. The published paper or a letter from an editor indicating acceptance should be provided to the director of graduate studies before scheduling a final exam date.  In certain cases, a first-author research manuscript might be written, but not yet accepted by a journal at the time of scheduling a final PhD thesis exam. In this case, the first-author requirement may be satisfied if trainees submit their manuscript to the preprint server for biology, bioRxiv (


The Doctor of Philosophy is the highest degree awarded by the University. The Ph.D. degree in Molecular Physiology and Biophysics indicates superior knowledge and excellence in research. During the semester in which the doctoral candidate plans to defend and graduate he/she must file an Application for Degree in the registrar's office no later than the specified deadline for that semester. The thesis involves the thesis document itself, the thesis presentation, and the thesis defense.

Thesis document

The thesis document shall consist of distinct sections entitled Abstract, Table of Contents, Introduction, Methods, Results, Discussion, and Bibliography which must conform to the current Graduate College style requirements. The Introduction and Methods sections should not be in the highly condensed form appropriate to specialized journals, but should constitute a critical and extensive review of the pertinent literature. It is anticipated that the thesis research will be published in refereed journals. The thesis, however, should not be written by simply collating a series of published articles, which may have multiple authors. Although published articles may represent individual chapters in the thesis, the student is expected to write a comprehensive background and discussion and the experimental results must be written in the student’s own words. The Graduate College Thesis Guidelines are available online at

First deposit of the Thesis document MUST be made with the Graduate College before the specified deadline for the semester in which the defense is to be held (NOTE: this deadline is very strictly enforced and must be met to the day, hour, and minute – procrastination is strongly ill-advised). After approval by the Graduate College, the thesis must be distributed to the thesis committee members at least two weeks prior to the scheduled thesis presentation and defense.

Thesis defense and presentation

Students first complete a thesis defense with their committee and once this test is completed can schedule a public thesis presentation.

The oral thesis defense is held with members of the thesis committee. During the oral examination questions concerning the thesis project, as well as the written thesis document itself, will be raised. The thesis defense should be held within the department (students should work with the graduate studies secretary to reserve an appropriate room). The format of the defense may either begin with a brief (approximately 15 minute) summary by the student and proceed to questions from the committee, or if preferred, the talk may be omitted and immediately begin with questions from the committee. Students are prohibited from providing food or beverages at committee meetings and examinations.

If the student's performance is deemed satisfactory, it is the responsibility of the student and his/her advisor to insure that all the necessary corrections have been made before the final deposit of the thesis document is made with the Graduate College by the specified deadline.

After the thesis defense has been successfully completed, students can schedule a public thesis presentation. The thesis presentation is a public seminar in the department. The Thesis presentation must be held within the departmental seminar room on the 5th floor of Bowen Science Building (5-669 BSB) during a normally scheduled seminar, workshop, or presentation time slot (Tuesday at 9:30 AM, Wednesday at noon, or Thursday at 9:30 AM). The time and date of the defense is to be approved by the director of graduate studies. Thesis presentations are typically 45 minutes in length and must allow sufficient time for questions following the presentation.

As a public seminar, guests of the student are welcome to attend the thesis presentation. However, students and advisors should bear in mind that this should be a professional presentation, generally not for the lay public.

In addition to document submission requirements to the Graduate College, students are asked to submit 1 full printed copy of their thesis to the Graduate Studies secretary so that it may be bound and added to our departmental library. Additional bound copies of the thesis may be prepared for the thesis advisor and student, at their cost.

The Graduate College hosts a formal Graduation Ceremony at the completion of the Fall and Spring semesters that all graduating students and their advisors are encouraged to attend. Please consult the graduate studies secretary for details.

Scientific and Academic Misconduct

A graduate student who commits any act of scientific or academic misconduct will be subject to disciplinary action by the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics. Misconduct includes conduct which the graduate student knew or reasonably should have known was a form of cheating, plagiarism, or falsification on any examination, term paper, scientific manuscript, comprehensive examination, transcript or registration document. The department thus affirms the policy specified in the "Code of Student Life."

It is the responsibility of each student to act in accordance with this official university policy.